Aranui Blog: The Aranui 3 Freighter Cruise

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The Aranui 3 Freighter Cruise

The Aranui blog lets you read about all of the exciting adventures awaiting you on the Aranui, an exquisite cargo cruise ship that takes you to many South Pacific islands! Find out what happens and what Normand Schafer, President of Far and Away Adventures thought of the whole adventure in our Aranui 3 cruise blog. can give you the best deal on your Aranui cruise and knows that you will find all the information you need on our site!

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Week One

Day 1

Day 1: April 7 – Depart Papeete

We had to wake up very early in the morning from Bora Bora (4:30 AM) in order to get to Papeete in time for the start of our trip to the Marquesas. Because we were to board the ship between 7:30 and 10 AM we scheduled ourselves to leave on the first 50-minute flight from Bora Bora at 7 AM. Since the airport in Bora Bora is on an island this meant the shuttle boat was to leave at 5:45 in the morning from the main town. Although the 20-minute shuttle didn’t really leave until 6 AM we had plenty of time to check in for our flight and purchase a few postcards at the airport gift shop.
We were met upon our arrival in Papeete by a friend who was kind enough to drive us to the bank and then to the Aranui 3 port. The Aranui 3 is a half cargo and half cruise ship that makes a number of 15-day voyages annually to deliver goods and bring passengers to the Marquesas Islands. The original Aranui that serviced the Marquesas Islands is almost 40 years old and has since been renamed. It doesn’t, however, handle long trips as it now only services areas around Papeete. The Aranui 2 was sold to a company in Africa where it is still in use today.

The Aranui 3 follows its predecessors in servicing the Marquesas Islands with the goods they need. The front half of the Aranui 3 can hold up to 4000 tons of cargo and is complete with two large cranes that can together load and unload up to 70 tons at a time. The main purpose of the ship is to transport cargo to the Marquesas Islands. Although it does transport copra, noni, and other goods back to Tahiti, for the most part, the ship simply carries 3000 tons of seawater back which simply helps balance the ship for the return voyage.

When we arrived at the cruise terminal it was amazing to see the cargo ship in action as it prepared itself for its voyage to the Marquesas Islands. Cargo was busily being loaded and prepared for the voyage with the use of the two large cranes on the front deck. Passengers loaded their bags onto a conveyor belt in the rear of the ship that wisked belongings up to an attendant on the main deck of the ship who then transported them to the rooms. On the cruise section of the vessel, it can accommodate up to 180 passengers although on our particular voyage there are only about 110 cruise passengers due to us traveling in low season. Both the front half of the ship and the back half of the ship were both working simultaneously to prepare for the launch of the trip. Everyone seemed to be working smoothly to achieve their respective tasks essential for the voyage.

After checking on the boat we had a bit of time before a 10 AM welcome cocktail in the bar on one of the top decks of the ship. Our children were happy to sit down with some fresh Tahitian made Mango, Banana, Pineapple or Grapefruit Juice while other passengers enjoyed a Rum Punch. It was also at this time that we really started to enjoy the air-conditioned boat. For so many weeks we have not been around air conditioning in the 28 to 34 degree Celsius weather. It was the first time we were able to sit down and enjoy a nice cool place that was not in a vehicle or the reception room of a business office.

Our children were also anxious to walk around the ship and explore every room. The Aranui 3 is a freighter with cruise passengers and so it is not as large as other cruise vessels. It did not take long to explore the ship and see the facilities it offered.

Since our family has 5 children and 2 adults we had to take up three cabins on the ship. Most cabins only accommodate 2 people with a few that accommodate 3. The standard rooms consist of two single beds while the rooms that fit an additional person have a bunk that pulls down. As a result, we were fortunate enough to get three cabins beside each other on the lower passenger deck.

Our cabins were located on the lower B deck of the ship. The only thing on this level apart from cabins is the exercise room and laundry room. It is also the deck that is just slightly above the waterline and so one can hear the splashing of water up against the side of the ship constantly. As the ship pulled out of Papeete it was impossible for our young 4 year old to take a much-needed nap because he was too excited to see the water splashing up against the porthole window and to see the waves outside. For hours it looked like we were sitting inside of a washing machine looking out at the water from outside splashing up against the window. The children were absolutely mesmerized by the rolling waves that splashed up against the side of the ship and our window.

On the next, A deck above are located more standard cabins along with the children’s video room/play room. Because of the configuration of the cabins on the ship, everyone is fortunate enough to get an ocean view room. The bottom two levels are portholes while the limited number of suites have larger windows or balconies.

The next deck of the ship houses the reception area, infirmary (doctor’s office) and Marquesian Library. The library at the front desk has a collection of books specific to the Marquesas Islands and people’s experiences to this part of the world. Books on Paul Gaugin, Herman Melville, and others are standard.

Finally, the next two decks are for the Restaurant and then the Lounge, Library and Swimming Pool. The swimming pool is a popular place for our children as they like to splash around in the fresh water. Within only a few hours of us lifting anchor, the kids were determined to make the swimming pool their first stop. The swimming pool is very cleverly designed. It has tall sides to contain the splashing water as the ship rolls from side to side, forward and backward. To one end of the pool, there is an area within the pool that when the ship is still, is not more than a few puddles of water. But when the ship is moving around, this area transforms the entire pool into a wave pool as. The water sloshes out of the pool into this wading area and then tumbles back like a waterfall into the swimming pool as the water slides back. It is a constant motion while the ship is cruising along and extremely exciting for the children.

Our first day was fairly simple with a lunch that seemed more like a full-on dinner, an orientation session and then another big meal for dinner. By the evening we were extremely exhausted and our children were begging to get some sleep. With the rolling action of the ship, our 6-year-old Orin fell asleep at the dinner table and our 8-year-old Dailin decided that he would skip Dinner and head straight to bed. He wasn’t feeling too good. The rest of the kids along with Mom and Dad were quick to follow them for an early night sleep.

Authored by Norm Schafer, Victoria BC


Day 2

Day 2: April 8 – Fakarava, Tuamotu Islands

We arrived around 6:30 in the morning on the Aranui 3 to the atoll of Fakarava. We entered the Tuamotu Island’s second largest atoll through the largest 1-mile wide pass in the South Pacific. To our left, we could see a thin continuous strip of land that went on for over 40 kilometers while on the other side we could see occasional patches of rock and a sparse unconnected ring of vegetation that completed the circular shape of the atoll.

Just prior to entering this Tuamotu island the seas began to be somewhat calmer and not as rough as we had experienced while in the open seas. The motion of the boat swayed less as I lay in bed waiting for our first stop in the Tuamotu Islands.

Being that it was Sunday, and particularly that it was Easter Sunday, we had decided that we would attend church services during our slightly less than 3 hour stop in Fakarava. The children all got dressed as we anticipated the events of the day. It didn’t take them long to eat their fresh fruit breakfast as they anxiously awaited our departure.

The Aranui had anchored about 800 feet from shore and so we were going to need to take a boat to get to land. One of the two large cranes that sit atop the cargo deck of the Aranui hoisted our bulky metal barge over the edge and gently dropped the massive vessel into the water adjacent to the ship. They placed this shuttle boat next to the metal steps that descended down along the side of the vessel around water level.

The sky was overcast with clouds and at times it looked like it may rain. But it didn’t rain and we were glad for that because the boat was open and did not have any shelter above it.

When it was time for us to disembark and before I know what was happening the crew members took our four and six year old children in their arms and descended down the steep curved steps that lead to the mini barge below. We followed quickly behind them. By the time he was halfway down the stair and my four year old saw that he was not in his mom or dad’s arms he started to cry with the fear of his life in his eyes. Under no circumstances did he want this gentle looking Polynesian man bringing him down to the boat alone. He was sure to make quite a fuss even after we all sat down on the boat together treating us as his parents as if we had deserted him.

The flat deck boat skimmed across the water to a boat launch that was on shore. Two workers lowered the front end of the vessel with come-a-longs so that it created a ramp each of the 80 passengers could use to walk off the boat and onto the shore without even getting their feet wet. I felt spoiled coming on shore in such a rig and to be greeting by a half dozen trucks that seemed to be there to greet the biggest invasion of tourists they had seen in two weeks. As we disembarked we could hear the Tahitian drums nearby beating out their welcoming music.

We were however on our way to church and had been told that church services on the island started at 8 AM. One of the Aranui workers pointed out the small Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints chapel only a one minute walk from where we landed and so we quickly walked on since it was now a few minutes past eight. Fortunately it was still overcast and early in the morning. This meant that the sun did not beat down hard on us nor was the heat of the day unbearable on this flat island.

The island of Fakarava only has about 700 inhabitants that are spread out along the rim of the atoll. The little meeting house we found only a few houses down the main street was a picture perfect chapel that looked like an old schoolhouse. Upon entering the front gate we were greeted by the 4 or 5 people that were present. The podium was decorated with a band of fresh flowers with a tropical plant in the front. I was a bit surprised to see so few people wandering around and asked at what time the services started. I was informed that they started between 8:00 and 8:30. What I have come to understand as “Tahitian Time”.

Our five young children in their khaki pants, dress sandals and white shirts sat quietly in the portable plastic white deck chairs as we waited for the church service to start. In the next 20 minutes we didn’t see many more people but by 8:30 in the morning there were about 22 others gathered together in this now overflowing chapel. I had been told that other in the congregation were gone for the holidays to Papeete and so it was anyone’s guess how many people would be present.

The church service was a simple one with familiar hymns. Although the opening hymn was sung in both Tahitian and French, the rest of the songs were sung entirely in French. The final of the three sermons just glossed over me. Ninety percent of the sermon was in the Tahitian language with the occasional few sentences in French. My son next to me kept asking me to translate what I could, only to be disappointed that even I did not understand what was being said. I myself was getting a fresh taste for what each of my children were going through as they struggled to get a grip on and a basic knowledge of the language. I felt a bit of a feeling of helplessness as I struggled to understand what was being said to everyone around me. The words we were all hearing were the same but each one of us understood something different if anything at all.

Following the service, we were bid farewell to the smiling faces with a handshake or kiss on each cheek as we left this small little meeting house. Many people thanked us for coming by and we left as quietly and quickly as we had come.

I continued to walk down the street about 5 minutes to where we had been told another Catholic church was. As I approached the church I could hear the energetic closing hymn of their service being belted out in a perfect almost gospel-like harmony. Within a few minutes the song was wrapping up and people came pouring out of the building in their white clothes and with the ladies wearing their various styles of hats.

Bicycles lined the stone wall along the street side of the church and cars were parked all around on the side of the road. As people started to go their separate ways, some drove away in the backs of pickup trucks, some rode away on bicycles and many walked away on foot. Easter was obviously a very busy day of worship for this island church that was also across the street from the ocean.

I walked with my oldest son who was by now the only one of my children still with me. The rest of them had all headed back to where we had arrived on the island to listen to and watch the Tahitian songs and dance that were heard in the distance. By this time the sun had come out and was beating full force down on us and so as we walked we attempted to stay in the shade of the occasional trees as much as possible.

My son and I had decided that we wanted to see how wide this little atoll island really was so we found a small dirt road that lead inland. It only took us 3 to 4 minutes to discover the outside edge of the reef as we came over a small crest of a hill in the road where we peered out into the open ocean with its waves crashing onto the shores of the reef that was only 20 feet from shore. The choppy waves that rolled on shore on this side of the island were a sharp contrast to the peaceful waters that lay calm within the lagoon of the circular atoll.

While the inner waterline of the atoll mostly was home to rocky ledges and beaches, this outer edge of the atoll was mostly made up of large pieces of coral, rock and the occasional shell. My son waded out into the water and I had to quickly call him in before he reached the knee deep water that quickly led to the coral reef only a short distance out. He wasn’t too impressed but I have had bad experiences with friends being dragged along sharp coral after being hit by waves, not to mention we were warned against going into the waters on this side of the island during our orientation meeting the evening before.

As we walked back to where we would catch the boat back to our ship we noticed a dirt road that went along the back side of the island and a shorter inland road that paralleled both this road and the paved one that we had come in on. We opted to walk the centre road that lead back to where we had come from which was lined with small humble homes that were very basic but many of which were tastefully decorated with natural Polynesian flowers and shrubs.

It was not hard to find our way back, not because there were not many roads, but also because of the Tahitian drums that we could hear again beating in the distance. As we approached the quay area we saw a number of young 8 to 14 year old Tahitian dancers that were all dressed up and had just wrapped up their performance. The local band however were still going strong, not on their drums but rather all strumming on their guitars and other string instruments as they sang. It was truely an enchanting rhythmic music of perfect harmony.

It finally came time for us to leave. As we put our life vests on we sat down for fifteen minutes waiting for our boat. As we did this a game of petanque (boules) was just getting underway behind us on the roughest surface of driveway-like gravel I had ever seen. Three local Tahitian men with their metal balls in one hand and cigarettes in the other were throwing the balls into the air to see who could get it closest to the cochon (big marble sized ball) about 30 feet away. They seemed to lance their balls with the greatest of ease and were enjoying their Sunday in the hot sun. It was entertaining to watch them interact with each other as they played on the most unpredictable of gravel surfaces with an amusing look on their faces. I’m sure a professional French player would have been appalled by the conditions of the natural court they were playing in but they didn’t seem to mind one bit.

As our deadline passed to leave we boarded our boat that would shuttle us back to the cruise / cargo ship. Once again the boat workers carried the little children up the stairs as we walked into the blast of cool air conditioned air that came from the front entrance of the vessel. We were all glad to get out of the hot sun of the day that had greeted us in Fakarava but sad to see this island for such a short amount of time.

As we lifted anchor and set off to exit the atoll island of the day, clouds gathered around the ship and we left in pouring rain without having even got wet during our stay. It was the perfect day and the perfect time to get off and walk around the main town of Fakarava, we only wished we could have stayed a little bit longer.

Authored by Norm Schafer, Victoria BC


Day 3

Day 3: April 9 – At Sea

Today was a day of relaxation and preparation. I had a great deal of time to type experiences from my small cabin with the waves crashing outside my window. The purr of the engine, splashing of the waves outside my porthole along with the rocking motion of the boat almost put me to sleep a number of times but I did manage to stay awake.

I did complete a token amount of exercise in the morning but not nearly enough to compensate for the three large meals I ate during the day. The food on the Aranui is absolutely incredible. Although there is a set menu, the staff have been extremely accommodating to allergy requests that we made prior to the trip for our youngest boy. They also have been great at preparing special meals that don’t contain certain foods we requested not to have for the rest of our family.

My only complaint with the food is that there is way too much. Breakfast is buffet style with fruit, pancakes, breads and cereal. The lunch and dinner always consist of a salad or other appetizer followed by a main course and then a much too tempting desert. My hope is that I don’t have to roll myself off of the ship when it is time to leave.

On our boat there are a total of 9 children, just over half of which are our children. According to one crew member we are the largest family they have see aboard the vessel. Two other French families (including the onboard Doctor) have two young 3 and 8 year old girls. The children seem to really be enjoying the onboard activities organized by the designated kids activity director. An early lunch (11 AM) and dinner (6:30 PM) has also been organized for the children so that they don’t have to wait until 7:30 PM to eat like the rest of the adults.

Being that it was Easter Monday, the children were able to color Easter eggs and to judge the adults Easter egg coloring contest. They also were kept busy playing games, swimming in the pool and watching an after dinner video. There seems to be plenty to keep the children busy and they are always excited to have something different to do.

Our first big orientation session was also held today to review the entire Marquesas portion of our itinerary. We were also advised to ignore the other itineraries that are frequently distributed as the exact itineraries change based on what cargo is being shipped along with the tide schedules. In Hiva Oa we have a long stop as we have to enter and exit the pass at high tide. During low tide the ship is only about 80 centimetres from the floor of the ocean where it anchors as it waits for a safe time to leave.

All excursions are included with the Cruise passage of the Aranui. With the exception of some optional scuba diving trips, museum admissions and horseback riding, the guided hikes, on land traditional meals and 4×4 excursions are all included. We are anxious to be heading for shore tomorrow early in the morning to catch our first glimpse of the Marquesas Islands.

Authored by Norm Schafer, Victoria BC


Day 4

Day 4: April 10 – Ua Pou: Hakahau and Hakahetau

Apart from two hours and 45 minutes on Fakarava we have finally completed three days at sea. Most of our family didn’t get sea-sick but for those who were feeling a bit shaky, we were pretty much over it after our first night’s sleep. The first day’s trip was the roughest seas so far and so that helped us all get our sea legs.

By 5:30 in the morning, we were pulling into the Ua Pou Harbour of Hakahau. It was a beautiful sight as we pulled into this fairly desolate island. The hills were covered in a low lying greenery. The mountain peaks were rounded on the sides of the harbour but directly in front of us in the centre, there were a dozen rock spires on the mountains in front of us. Many of these spires were covered in clouds as the clouds hung low and continually drifted past the tops of the mountain. It was an eerie but beautiful site.

In the protected harbour there were two sailboats anchored in the early morning as we pulled in to the cement dock to the side of the harbour to unload the precious cargo that the local residents were anxiously waiting for. The Aranui 3 dispatched two of their whaleboats to take ropes which helped secure the Aranui to the dock. Within a very short period of time the boat was ready to deliver its goods to the hundreds of residents who were anxiously waiting for items they had ordered.

Throughout the morning we saw at least 10 vehicles (mostly jeeps and 4×4’s) and dozens of containers hoisted off of the cargo ship with its massive cranes and depositing them on the shore. Over the course of a few hours pickup trucks, tractors and dump trucks came by to move the goods that were being left on the quay. One of the residents also notified us that the island’s supply of gasoline was quite low and so they were all waiting for the fuel that the Aranui always brought to their island.

We were free all morning to wander around the little village with its post office and bank to explore life on this little island. We decided that our family would rather do something a little different and so we asked the ladies selling handicrafts if there was anyone that could do a tour for us. We were told that there was only one person on the island of Ua Pou registered to take paying passengers and that was Isadore. I asked her how to get hold of him and then she pointed him out to me as he was just driving by in his king cab pickup truck (with long bench seats in the back).

I rushed over to speak to Isadore the island Taxi driver and asked him how much it would be to do a tour of the island to the beaches by Hohoi to search out some flowering stones. After agreeing upon a price, he said he would come back after going to the Aranui to pick something up. Well we waited half an hour and did not see him and got a little worried. Perhaps he had forgotten about me, my wife and our five children. We grew a bit tired of waiting around the handicraft centre and eventually told a person that knew Isadore that he would be able to find us walking the 5 minutes into town. After visiting the bank, we tried hitchhiking to Hohoi but were told that not many vehicles went that way and it was probably not a good idea (this was definitely true). So we wandered around the village before heading back to the area we were to meet him at near the port but saw no sign of him. We thought that perhaps he had met another higher fare paying passenger and decided to take them instead and so I went looking for a nearby Guesthouse to see if they knew of anyone that could take us around the island.

Just as I reach the Pension Pukuee high up on the hill above the harbour, up drove Isadore with his white Nissan truck and my family inside ready to go on our journey. When I told him we had given up on him I soon discovered the reason for his tardiness. He had gone to the Aranui that day to pick up a brand new vehicle. He had sat watching as one car after another was pulled out from the cargo area of the vessel before his finally was pulled out. He had wanted to take my family on a drive around the island in his brand new vehicle as it was all enclosed and would enable us to avoid breathing in the dust from the dirt roads of the island. Isadore drove us to his home where his new car was being carefully washed by his wife in preparation for his first drive in the vehicle. It proved to be very handy indeed as it was comfortable with three rows of seats and air conditioning. He also informed us that it was only the second automatic transmission vehicle on the island of Ua Pou, something that was very evident by the way he lurched to a screeching halt as he was getting used to driving the new vehicle. After about an hour-long drive he seemed to be starting to get the hang of it. It also took him a few minutes to figure out how to go in reverse with the automatic transmission vehicle, but he managed to get the hang of it.

The drive to Hohoi took about an hour from Hakahau. The dirt road was extremely rough with large loose rocks all over the road. It is a road that is best driven by someone who knows the area very well. Driving down the road I kept thinking that we were going to pop a tire. As we passed through some of the valleys we drove through stream beds that intercepted the road, we saw Isadore’s brother-in-law’s new mango plantation as well as banana stalks that lined the road. The road led us up through two mountain passes where we had panoramic views of the bays and spike topped mountains. It was an amazing view on this East side of the island. Ua Poe itself is very dry and dusty. Even the brown sandy beach by where we landed in Hakahau is more of a dirty sand that is powdery and sticks to you. Here on the east side of the island it seemed to be covered in a bit more vegetation and greenery, but definitely not lush tropical jungles.

The valley where Hohoi is located only has about 80 inhabitants (100 when the school children come home from Hakahau for the weekend). The valley we were going to see is to be the host city for the upcoming 2007 Marquesas Festival. I am not sure where the estimated 3000 guests will stay while here but we were assured plans are currently being made. Due to the festival, money has also come available to restore the nearby archaeological site of atohua (open air gathering place). We walked around the site where an archaeologist is assisting in the restoration efforts. They began work by clearing the ground of trees in November 2006 and hope to have a good portion completed prior to the December 2007 festival. Many local villagers were here assisting in clearing the land and pouring concrete stones that were to replace broken or missing ones that have been damage due to years of neglect and carelessness. The archaeologist told us of how over the years this location has been used by locals to gather but they have not been careful. Fires had been built around the sites which have cracked large rocks which formed many of the stone platforms at this site.

After a bit of a lesson on the use of these historical buildings we continued on our drive through Hohoi and to the nearby beach. We were told it is now almost impossible to find the ever popular flower stones that used to cover the beaches here, but our children wanted to have a try at finding some ourselves. The flower stones are unique to this area and are created when phonolite crystallizes in amber coloured flower shapes within the rocks. Our guide informed us that this smooth looking almost river rock stone does not originate from the beach but rather from the mountains. The rock breaks from the mountain and rolls through streams to the ocean when it rains. It was while we were beachcombing at this beach that I also discovered the secret to how these stones also get their round polished look.

As we walked up the beach, waves would come crashing on shore. The waves came into this bay directly from off shore where there is no reef to protect the harbour. As the waves would swell up to crash on shore, it would also roll these rocks onto the rocky beach. What was amazing however was that as the water retreated back into the ocean, it would drag the stones back with it creating an almost avalanche like sound of loose pebbles. These rocks would roll up and down the shoreline to create a tumbled rock look that was as good as any professionally tumbled rock I have ever seen. We collected a number of green, purple and other coloured rocks but unfortunately did not find any flower stones. After only about 30 minutes in search of the elusive flower stones we had to head back to Hakahau for our lunch. The children seemed to have slightly heavier waist pouches on the way back that were filled with the treasures they had found at this rocky beach.

We drove back with Isadore as he explained to us his many jobs and talents as a musician, farmer, business man and taxi driver. He was supposed to perform at the afternoon Marquesian dance presentation for all those who had been on the Aranui 3, but we arrived at the Pae Pae Tenei (traditional meeting platform) just as the dancers were wrapping up and the rest of our fellow passengers were taking a few pictures for lunch. As we pulled up to where the performance was held Isadore seemed to have a bit of a pale look on his face. His brand new vehicle was making a slight hissssssing sound from the back end. After a bit of further discovery we discovered that the hissing sound was coming from the rear passenger tire. It looked like a rock had rubbed up against the side of the tire and it was quickly going flat as we watched the car sink closer to the ground. Isadore motioned for us to go on to lunch while he repaired his vehicle promising us that he would have one of his music CD’s and a few flower stones ready for us when we returned back to Ua Poe before our return back to Papeete.

There are not many places to eat on Ua Poe but the Aranui 3 organized a local lunch for us that was very impressive. Chez Rosalie’s restaurant is apparently only open when the Aranui is in port and so we were treated to a feast of shrimp potatoe salad, octopus, cooked bananas, rice and bright yellow watermelon. It was a much needed feast after walking around in the hot 32 degree Celsius afternoon sun.

By the time lunch was over, we had little more time than to head back to the Aranui for our departure to the other side of the North end of the island of Ua Pou. The boat left the busy port of Hakahau with its 1500 residents for the town of Hakahetau with its 200 inhabitants. In this harbour there was no place to moor the large ship and so our family along with the other passengers boarded the ship’s whaling boats. These smaller boats hold about 30 people and can handle rougher waters. As we pulled up to the cement dock that jutted slightly out into the harbour we had a fun time dismounting with the ongoing waves that would lift and drop the boat in a very precarious way. Although it was the most rough dismount I have experienced, there were about five Aranui staff members to pull us out of the boat and help not only our children but us adults up to the top of the cement wharf.

As we arrived we walked up the little village road where we saw dogs, chickens and even a large pig tied to a tree in a resident’s yard. School was just getting out and so we also saw mothers picking up their children while other little 6 to 8 year old children just walked home. We followed a few of the children as they were going in the same direction as we were going. A 10 minute hike took us up the hill to a beautiful flat stone viewpoint that let us look over the pristine bay with its tall green mountains and hills on all sides. This side of the island was much more lush and green than the previous dry village we had seen. The flat stone lookout was covered in coconuts that were being dried in the sun for about two weeks in order to produce the highly sought after copra.

As we headed back to ship after only 2 hours on shore, we could see the local residents gathering the last of the goods that they had transported on our cargo ship. The cargo being transported to this side of the island was much smaller as the goods had to be transported by smaller boats and all items had to be moved by hand (rather than using the tall ship’s cranes). The last load of the day that I saw driving away was a pickup truck full of the highly prized toilet paper. I would estimate that at least 400 cases of toilet paper were in the back of the pickup truck, something I reminded them was obviously very important.

Shortly after arriving back on the boat, we attended our usual evening briefing for tomorrow so that we could prepare everything we needed. As usual the following 3 course meal was a marvelous feast that I am sure takes no notice of anyone’s waistline. The children were once again fed an hour earlier than the adults and it did not take any coaxing to get their sleepy heads to bed for the evening.

Authored by Norm Schafer, Victoria BC


Day 5

Day 5: April 11 – Nuku Hiva: Taiohae and Taipivai

Our first of three trips to Nuku Hiva Nuku Hiva was a busy one that took us on an excursion that lasted the entire day and had us visit two different sides of the island. We started the day in in the main centre of Taiohae followed by our departure from the small town of Taipivai.

A school bus shuttled us the two kilometres from the freighter terminal where we were docked in Taiohae bay to the downtown area where people were once again set up to sell their handicrafts. Residents from all around the island were gathered in a community building to showcase hundreds of original handcrafted items. Everything from carved wooden tikis to intricate polished stone pieces were on display. I opted to spend my free hour walking down the beautifully kept waterfront collecting video and still photo memories of this mountainous harbour. The mountains once again were covered in greenery with the mountains rising to 864 metres. At the entrance to the harbour were two large stone sentinels that seemed to almost guard the peaceful harbour that was filled about a dozen sailboats, three cargo vessels and a millionaire’s yacht (complete with a helicopter and helicopter pad).

I even had a few minutes to stop by a small computer store where I was able to get onto a computer to upload my latest blog. I have to say that the internet connection was the good old fashioned dial up service. It was slow but nonetheless I was able to do all the updating I needed to do in 15 minutes for the minimum 250 CPF ($3 CAD) charge. It is great to find a computer store to gain internet access as it allowed me to plug in my memory stick to the computer and paste in my blog without spending a few hours on the computer. The most common locations for internet connections in the Marquesas Islands are at post offices but unfortunately their standard computers don’t allow for any plug in devices.

At 9:30 AM my family left with the rest of the group from our cruise ship for a day long excursion. We all walked over to a parking lot that had about 25 four wheel drive vehicles, a 20 passenger minibus and about 4 local horses. Although we left the horses behind, they were a common sight throughout the day. We saw horses tied up almost everywhere on the island. In the town, by the churches and up on hilltops way up in the mountains. To this day many Marquesians still use horses as a means of transportation. It seemed like horses were about as common here as scooters were in Papeete.

Our first stop was the beautiful Notre Dame Cathedral of the Marquesas Islands. Although the two old castle like turrets of the original building with its gate-like entrance are still intact, a beautiful new building was made in the 1970’s. The new cathedral is also on this tohua site using stone from the Marquesas’ six inhabited islands. The cathedral contains stone and wood carvings that mix the Marquesian like culture with the Christian stories and traditions. Etched in stone are carvings of the Virgin Mary while wooden door posts contain life size carvings of apostles that have the appearance of the local Marquesian people. The recent clergy that helped create this newer cathedral enlisted the support of the local Marquesian Christians and tried to encourage the use of skills and ideas that had for over 100 years been prohibited by the church. Inside the cathedral Aranui staff presented an hour long lecture to passengers on the Christian history within the Marquesas Islands. Presentations were made in English, French and German to accommodate for the needs of all passengers on the boat.

The largest part of the day was spent on the drive North and then East into the mountains and back down again to the neighbouring town of Taipivai. The drive up the steep mountain has in recent years been paved and so the trip was rather easy with no dust to contend with in the back of open jeeps and trucks. The road twisted and turned along the road that crawled up the mountain to the top ridge of Mount Muake. With one stop first at a viewpoint we continued on to a higher viewpoint that overlooked not only the harbour with all of its boats, but also the mountains towering up on three sides. The colours of the mountain ridges with their wave like vertical surfaces was indeed a breathtaking location to spend two hours for lunch and visiting others. There was a large shelter with picnic tables and flush toilets to make the stop much more manageable for our group of about 120 people.

My son’s highlight was to watch one of our fellow passengers from France who is a professional artist, draw pictures from our surroundings. We looked through his book of designs that he started while in Tahiti and the Marquesas and it inspired my son who has been diligently sketching outlines of mountains and scenes of our trip. His pictures of the harbours we visited in the past few days along with old churches from the towns were beautifully illustrated as he sketches on site and adds the colours when he has time in the evening.

Our descent down the mountain took us to the sleepy little town of Taipivai that hugged a little harbour about 25 kilometres from Taiohae. Near this town we took a 20 minute hike up an unmarked road and trail to the Paeke Archaeological site. The trail led up a clear path through coconut and mango trees to a me’ae (Marquesian Sacred Site) where two stone platforms were visible with tall stone tikis up to 5 feet tall. The tikis were carved to represent specific ancestors of the people and form part of the wall supporting the rock ceremonial platforms. Although the tikis are starting to fade from the stone due to the wear of rain and sun, the two platforms remain intact.

At the end of our tiring day we were all anxious to return to our boat. It was a good thing that my youngest two children aged 4 and 6 stayed on the boat while it cruised to Taipivai without us as they would not have lasted in the hot sun of the day. My 8 year old even headed back early rather than complete the hike at the end.

As we all boarded onto the barge that would take us back to the Aranui some large waves came rumbling through this otherwise protected Fjord like harbour. The waves were enough to soak the few passengers that were seated in the back of the boat furthest from the shore where passengers were still trying to get onto the boat. As these waves came crashing in they pushed us so high up onto the black sand beach that our barge was stuck. Thanks to the quick thinking of the crew they asked the local man on shore who hopped into his tractor that was parked on the beach and he gently pushed us off the beach and back into the water.

Throughout the day each passenger was dressed in long-sleeve shirts, pants and plenty of Deet insect repellent to keep of the pesky nono’s. If bitten they leave an itch that is not easily forgotten. Although it was a long day in warmer than normal clothes that took us from one harbour to another on Nuku Hiva it was an experience I would not have missed for anything. It was a day where we learned a great deal of the history of these remote islands and gained a greater understanding into their culture and way of life.

Authored by Norm Schafer, Victoria BC


Day 6

Day 6: April 12 – Tahuata and Hiva Oa Islands: Vaitahu and Atuona Townships

We were fortunate enough to visit two islands today. The first being the village of Vaitahu on the island of Tahuata and the second being the town of Atuona on Hiva Oa. Vaitahu is a small little village nestled in a small valley between towering mountains on all sides. The steep mountains raise up on all sides with the somewhat sheltered harbour on the other.

We entered this island using the large metal barge boat and it was a rough landing. Although the harbour is sheltered the waves do come in and create 3 foot swells on shore. Where we landed there was a cement landing constructed with steps up to the platform. As we dismounted from the boat, the swells occasionally rocked the boat up and down. When this happened the crew members directed us to wait a moment until the barge was safely positioned by the steps at a proper height. Each time we dismounted there was also two to three crew members there to help us all the way up to the top of the platform.

After we disembarked and were walking down the short road to town someone pointed out to me a brand new pickup truck that was being prepared for offloading at the dock. They had loaded the truck onto a barge with the ship’s crane, motored the barge up to the dock with the top end on the cement and the back end with the motor pushing the barge constantly into the dock. This was to keep things stable as they proceeded to drive the truck off the barge, first the front end and after about 30 seconds of the truck balancing both on the boat and on land with the barge bouncing up and down, they drove the back end off the boat and safely onto land. It was quite a precarious procedure and I’m sure stressful enough for those involved.

We took our time walking into the village where the local artisans had set up their tables to sell their various handicrafts to the people on the Aranui 3. They showed off their carved masks, spears, tikis and jewellery along with stone tikis, sculptures and poi pounders. Carved jewellery was also a popular item being offered. It is heartening to see the hard work that goes in to each and every handicraft item that is displayed on their tables. To know that many of these people make a lot of their extra income off of the items they sell and that many of them only sell these items when the Aranui ship comes into their port is amazing.

We didn’t have much more time in this village and so we went walking a little further to the beautiful Catholic Church on the island. As we rounded the corner that brought us through a field to the church I saw one of the men from our group whom we had seen two days previous, sketching and he was busy with his Marquesas drawing book creating a new piece of artwork. My 11 year old son Jaeden, who had brought his sketch pad with him on this occasion, proceeded to pull out his pad and drawing pencils and proceeded to draw the same object this 75 year old artist was working on. This artist who has completed many expositions of his own had a look at my son’s sketches and then watched him at work. Occasionally he would give my son a few pointers and watch him in action and in silence. Although he spoke very little English, he tried his best to be a mentor to my son who had this great desire to develop his talent for art. It was one of his best afternoons to sit with a professional and to create art with his assistance.

As I left the two of them alone to have a look at the beautiful Marquesian carvings and stained glass window in the nearby church, the school next door let their children out for a short recess. All of these young and curious six to nine year olds came out of school to see what was going on in the world around them. Some of them started running around in the field while a group of them started to gather around my son and this older artist. They marvelled at the work that they were creating and had a look at the recent pictures that this man had in his book which were all created in the French Polynesian Islands. They were all in awe with the pictures and hung around for some time watching them at work. After a little while the gathering crowd got so large that the two artists had to pack up and find some other things to do with the remaining few minutes on the island. My son had no problem running up to the local children and playing soccer with them while the elderly gentleman slowly wandered back towards the Aranui 3.

Our second stop for the day was in the city of Atuona on the nearby island of Hiva Oa. This larger town heavily influenced by Europeans is one of the main centres of the Southern portion of the Marquesas. The port was located a few kilometres away from the town and so we spent most of the rest of the day being shuttled around in the local community school busses. Our first stop was at a Chineese / Marquesan food restaurant called Hoa Nui. Although this restaurant is only open by reservation (with bookings made a day in advance) they put on an enormous buffet lunch feast for the Aranui 3 as they usually do. To date they offered the widest selection of food we have seen at a single meal.

Our next few stops for the day were up the mountainside to the cemetery where Belgian singer Jacques Brel and French painter Paul Gauguin were buried. These two men are perhaps the most touted residents who have ever lived on the island. Perhaps due to the fact that they both spent their last years on the island, they have been immortalized on this island.

Our final stop was to the Atuona Cultural Centre which houses both the Jacques Brel Memorial and the Paul Gauguin Museum. Being that I am not familiar with Jacques Brel I decided to take in twenty minutes at the Paul Gauguin Museum which houses a collection of “impostor” paintings. Due to the fact that the facilities in this tropical city is not conducive to the preservation of works of art, all of the paintings and most artefacts are simply copies of the works that Paul Gauguin himself created. The museum also provides a good history of his life along with excerpts from letters that he wrote to his family back in Europe. A replica of Mr. Gauguin’s “House of Pleasures” is also on display in a separate building on the site. This final stop to me was interesting from a historical perspective but unless you are a Paul Gauguin fan, his life and lifestyle in the last years of his life while on this island until 1903 were not really of interest to me.

Authored by Norm Schafer, Victoria BC


Day 7

Day 7: April 13 – Fatu Hiva: Omoa and Hanavave (most isolated village)

Fatu Hiva was a definite pearl of the Marquesas Islands. This island was indeed a special place as we visited its two villages that only have a population of about 250 people each. Because Fatu Hiva does not even have an airport, it was the most remote and adventurous island on our itinerary.

I landed in the town of Omoa where my son and I were amongst the first group of people on shore. We had decided that we were going to take the 17 kilometre hike from Omoa to Hanavave and so the 20 of us hikers needed to have a head start on our visit to the island.

The town of Omoa is very traditional and similar to what the old Marquesan islands would have been like in the past. Although there are now 4 wheel drives and tractors, much everything else about the town is the same. Villagers welcomed us with open arms as they showed us their handicrafts that were for sale. They also held demonstrations on how they created tapa cloth by pounding various types of bark for 3 hours to mould it into items that they would traditionally need. A demonstration was also made on how to make scented flower bunches for brides using a variety of flowers, herbs, pineapple chunks and sandalwood powder. They would then roll these into a hair bun on the ladies heads.

We also had the opportunity to visit a local museum that housed artefacts from the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. Carved paddles, trading items, bowls and photos were all on display to show ancient carvings and history of the Marquesas Islands.

The next part of the day was the most rigorous part of the Aranui 3’s itinerary. It included our 4 hour hike into the mountains from one village to the next. Now this may not seem like much of a big deal but considering that there were only 3 vehicles on this road throughout the entire day (including one guided trip of boaters and the people bringing our top of the mountain picnic) it was as remote as we could have made ourselves.

The weather for the hike was perfect. It was overcast for most of the two hour ascent up the mountainside and trees alongside the road provided a great deal of shade. Although it sprinkled with rain on two occasions, it quickly passed leaving us refreshingly damp and cool in the hot air of the day. Occasionally a breeze would blow through the mountain valley trail and my son and I would gratefully stand there with our arms outstretched to enjoy the coolness of the wind.

As we mounted the mountain we curved and twisted up the mountain along a rich red soil road that was fairly wide in many places. The road headed along the ocean at first but quickly moved inland for half of the hike. Mountains towered over us at first but as we climbed up these towering mountains turned into level views high above enormous valleys of lush green vegetation. At times we looked over the edge of the path to see sheer mountain cliffs that would only take one step to send someone tumbling a kilometre or two down to the bottom of the valley.

It was a bit bizarre to see the power lines that were along the path. The trail consistently crossed with a three wire power lines that ran across this little island. Every time we thought that we had reached the top of the mountain, there was again a bit of a climb. The mountain was a bit deceiving as it gradually mounted corner after corner for two full hours.

After a nice refreshing lunch that was brought to the top of the mountain for us (and a refill of our bottled water). My son Jaeden and I started the two hour descent down the mountain. This at first was quite a nice leisurely stroll as we only gradually descended. The sun was out a little bit more but still shade was most common. On a sunny day this part of the hike would be extremely hot as the shrubs on this second mountain were virtually non-existent and as a result there was almost no shade at all.

Thirty minutes into the descent we arrived as some steeper areas and took a ten minute shortcut that had us almost sliding down an extremely old 4×4 trail that may have only been possible to descend. Finally after half of our descent was complete we arrived at a viewpoint that hovered over Virgins Bay below. From here we had a panoramic view of the hills behind us, of the basalt rock pillars in front of us and the crown like peaks of the mountains that encircled us on all sides. We were extremely high up in the mountains and had one of the best views of the area. It was truly a rewarding hike for this view alone. It looked like a viewpoint or some other construction was going on at this location as a large area had been flattened out and a dump truck and crane were working here to smoothen the road. This heavy equipment looked so much out of place on this tiny little island. But as we continued to descend we could see why the road was being widened and flattened. It was this part of the descent that was perhaps the most tricky and scary as loose rocks and uneven boulders created a bumpy road surface. The road in this last descent was also the steepest we had seen and we even slipped in the loose rock a few times but fortunately did not get hurt. One older person in our group at this point caught a ride down the mountain on a local person’s motorbike as it skidded down the mountain with its breaks on much of the time.

The final 20 minutes of our walk descended into the valley of Hanavave below. A fresh water stream could be heard alongside the dirt road we were walking on as Palm, noni and banana trees towered all around us. This valley was an oasis on what otherwise seemed to be a barren mountaintop on this last half of the trail. As we descended into the village that follows the last 1.5 kilometres of a river, we saw a horse tied up in a field. This horse was obviously someone’s main source of transportation in this tiny town. We crossed a bridge which then led us to the paved road that wanders the rest of the way into town and to the seashore. Along the road people were selling more handicrafts to those few of us who had decided to make the trek across the mountains. It was disheartening to walk by with only a tired glance at the hard work of their artwork. We were however extremely exhausted after 5 hours away from our group on the ship and anxious to see all the others who had taken the boat to this new little port town.

As I arrived into this little town of Hanavave I saw what it truly must have been like in the Marquesas even 50 years ago. The townspeople were on holidays at the arrival of the Aranui and put on a dance and musical performance for us at the site of their downtown basketball court that overlooked the water. Everyone in town was there selling crafts, dancing, handing out drinking coconuts and smiling. This little town on Virgins Bay was not only friendly but the breathtaking view of the towering pinnacles and mountains around it made it an unforgettable place. Most of the passengers on the ship wanted to just stay but once again this was not possible as we did have to move on.

This may also have been the sentiment of the youth that I saw on the small boat that took us back to the Aranui. He was decked out in a flower lei and all of the young children of the village were discretely saying goodbye to him. He too was leaving his village where he probably had grown up and was heading back to Papeete. Children from these islands go to Atuona at the age of 9 or 10 years old and around 15 or 16 years of age they leave the Marquesas Islands (as do all children of French Polynesia) to finish their high school in Papeete. It was sad to leave and we said goodbye to this little corner of paradise with its famously beautiful sunset on the horizon.

Authored by Norm Schafer, Victoria BC


Week Two

Day 8

Voyage on the Aranui 3 to the Marquesas – Week 2

Day 8: April 14 – Hiva Oa: Puamau and Hanaiapa

Our arrival in Hiva Oa was as beautiful as ever. Although the mountains were not towering over us in this little harbour, there was one unique feature in the pointed rock that jutted out of the water about one third of the distance across the entrance to the harbour. This pillar stood alone in the water behind where the Aranui was anchored by the time we woke up in the morning.

The true adventure however started when it came time for us to disembark the whaleboats when we arrived on shore. It was perhaps the most treacherous landing so far as the boat bounced against the concrete landing amid 4 foot ocean swells. Old and young disembarked from the boat with the skilled help of the sailors that were in charge of assuring we made it on land safely. It was especially exciting for us as parents to see the boat drifting up and down as one sailor on the boat passed our youngest children to another on land. But we were also rather distracted with making sure all of our other children were safe as they made their way to the disembarking gate on the boat. Our older children enjoyed the challenge of stepping off the boat at the right second to safety on shore.

Where we landed there was an extremely narrow and steep road that mounted slightly before levelling off towards the village and along the waterfront. Those who chose to do so were able to walk 40 minutes to an archaeological site just outside of the village. With our children however, we chose the easy alternative by taking the 4×4 jeeps that were provided along the paved streets to the Iipona archaeological site. This site is said to be one of the best precontact Marquesian historical sites with the largest Tiki at over 6 feet tall.

It was overcast as we drove the six kilometres to the site, a break from the brief drizzle that rained down on the whaleboat before us. Armed with a plastic bag holding our camera equipment we were fortunately the first vehicle to arrive at the site. As we arrived the first of the hikers who had a head start were not far behind. I jumped out of the vehicle to grab a few photos before the rest of the 120 passengers arrived. I only had about one minutes before my few moments of photo taking were limited to shots of individual artefacts and tikis due to the flood of passengers which were arriving on the site from the Aranui.

The boat passengers where shortly divided into three groups in order to accommodate for a 30 minute lecture on the history of this archaeological site. Due to past experience, I opted to listen to the historical presentation given by the French historian Didier who has been with the Aranui for many years. My experience has shown that the other lecturers are not that well versed on the depth of knowledge that Didier had to share and so my family listened to the condensed 10 minute version given by Vai in English while I had the opportunity to have a detailed and intellectual account in French.

This site was created by a Marquesian tribe called the Nike who were constantly at war with the neighbouring tribes (wars consisted of the death of two or three warriors before being brought to a close until the next one). These people were very powerful and always successful in their wars. After they captured and ate a neighbouring chief following one battle, multiple neighbouring tribes chased them away and the prominent people left on canoes for other islands.

The uniqe thing about this site was the relatively large Tiki statues that we saw here. The largest one in the Marquesas islands was located here and is over 6 feet tall. It was amazing to see the amount of work that these people put into carving the stones that represented and immortalized their ancestors.

As we were finishing up, it began to pour down with rain. At first a warning shower which quickly cleared up and then a 10 minute downpour. The man selling his carvings at this site quickly packed up his things and headed for home while the rest of us without raincoats ran for a small overhanging shelter that was part of the entrance sign. By the time we reached this place however we were all very soaked as the tree we were initially standing under did not offer any refuge from the rains.

After waiting a few minutes the rains calmed down enough for us to slide the children into the second row seats of one of the pickup truck taxi’s. We however hopped into the back of the truck for a rather wet ride to the location of Tohua Pehe Kua, the valley’s last chief and queen’s gravesite. There wasn’t too much exciting going on at this location which was also conveniently a Pension’s back yard. They also sold honey, fruits and other products for the many tourists crammed under a small little shelter. My kids were more interested in the four week old piglet that was tied to a post in the back yard than anything else. The little tiny pig although on someone’s dinner menu of the future, was more of an attraction to play with for my children (especially my 4 year old son).

After a short stop we were all rather anxious to be getting back to the boat and into some warm dry clothes. Although it does not seem to get cold in the Marquesas, I was beginning to feel on the verge with my wet clothes. About a kilometre from where the whaleboats were picking us up, my two oldest children wanted to get out of the truck with some of the other passengers and hike back on foot. It was a nice flat trip for them most of the way and was a great chance to stretch out the legs before the rough boat ride back to the Aranui. My 11 year old son was all for running the all the way back while my 12 year old daughter just walked with some young 8 year old girls and their parents.

Our second stop for the day was in a sleepy little town called Hanaiapa. This was probably the first village I saw that did not have the main centre of town along the seashore. The only people I saw along the shore as we arrived was a young family who were having a picnic together with their three children along the edge of the ocean and a group of three boys who were jumping into the waves with their short surf boards. I guess even here in the Marquesas surfing is as much a sport as anywhere else. Although the waves in this semi-sheltered bay were not gigantic, they gave a good 10 second ride to the young surfers who would ride them as far as they could. It entertained them for hours.

The road to this little village was a small dirt road, the first dirt road from a pier that I had seen. Trees lined the road with yellow flowers that were falling off and spread out all over the ground. The road turned abruptly inland about three quarters of a kilometre from the pier when we reached a stream that emptied into the ocean. The stream was lined with a beautiful rock wall and nearby there were some Polynesian canoes sitting up on land.

As we turned up the path you could hear the sound of the stream as it flowed alongside the dirt path which soon turned into a paved road as we neared the town. It is here where I saw a Marquesian man riding his horse back home near the end of the day. The occasional homes were to the side of the road as we approached the tiny village. Flowering shrubs and plants dotted the sides of the road with Hibiscus and other flowers. At least a kilometre inland we found what seemed to be the centre of town. Homes were a little closer together here and to the side of the road looked like a small community building where people had set up to display their handicrafts. This building and the small little church that you could hardly see from the main road were the only indication that there was even a town here. Otherwise it would have just looked like a countryside road.

Some intricately drawn tapa paintings were found here along with a brisk business of selling coconuts with a convenient straw stuck into it. I saw even local Marquesians shelling out the 150 CPF for a drink from a coconut and then they would break their “glass” and eat the fresh coconut itself. It was a small and relaxing little town. Not much happening and it seemed as if not even a single shipment from the Aranui was destined for this little town as nobody was waiting for their cargo at the pier.

Authored by Norm Schafer, Victoria BC


Day 9

Day 9: April 15 – Tahuata: Hapatoni (Archaeology)

This morning we arose early for church services in the small town of Hapatoni on Tahuata. This little town only three years ago was opened up to the rest of the island when it received access via a small road. As a result the first cars in this village only appeared around that time. It is a very much traditional island that has kept its friendly traditions and old way of life.

My 8 year old son Dailin, this morning was rather sick and throwing up from midnight until we left and so we left him behind with my wife who was taking care of him. As my four children and I arrived on shore, we were greeted by three warm and friendly ladies who sang out to us in Marquesian a song of greeting and presented each of us with a crown of woven greenery as they placed them on our heads. Each of the children were happy to receive one except for my four year old who didn’t recognize these strangers. He embarrassingly threw his on the ground while Alyssa scooped it up and held onto it until he warmed up a bit and placed it on his head for a photo.

When we asked the local residents of the village what churches held services in the town, there was only one. For a town of 100 people everyone wanting to go to church went to the stone Catholic Church. One gentleman I spoke to said, oh yes there are Protestants here too but they go to the Catholic church, there is no other choice. Our church was not present in this village and so we followed the steady stream of visitors that had come with us on the first whaleboat to the little church in the village. There were two rock walls that contained a path which lead to a field in front of the church. When we arrived all the local villagers waited outside as a father and his boys beat a drum outside by the bell calling all who wanted to worship to the church. After a short break they would beat their drum again until one final time when the church bell was rung by pulling the rope and the drums beat along with the bell. When the bell was rung all the parishioners sitting outside came in to join all of the visitors who were already seated. A mat was placed in front of the front pew and all of the local village children seated themselves here.

The harmony of the songs that were sung and the energy with which they were sung was breathtaking. Each person seemed to sing as if from their heart and even the children belted out the songs with all of their might. The music in that church was harmonious and heartfelt.

After the church services we wandered back to the boat where we spent the rest of the day relaxing. I stayed behind to take care of my son who shortly thereafter was well again. Orin and Eli wanted to stay out of the sun and so they stayed with me. It wasn’t until about 11:45 AM (45 minutes after the last boat to shore) that I realized Alyssa and Jaeden had been so busy reading or daydreaming that they too missed the day on land with their mom. So we all ate onboard and had an extremely relaxing day.

We were a bit sad to have missed the meal in the village and the friendly Marquesians who hosted a dance performance. The people here were so friendly and hospitable. Their smiles were warm and one could tell they were genuinely happy to have visitors on their island. We were told that this little community will not accept any small amount of money from the Aranui 3 company to provide the greetings and local fruits that they generously offer. They want to provide this from their hearts and in gratitude for the souvenirs, passengers buy from their local artisans. Although the Aranui only stopped here three times last year, it is now on the itinerary for the entire year in 2007. A great choice.

Authored by Norm Schafer, Victoria BC


Day 10

Day 10: April 16 – Ua Huka: Vaipaee, Hokatu and Hane (4×4 Jeep & Horseback Riding)

Our entire day in Ua Huka was spent on shore with the Aranui 3 dropping us off in Vaipaee and picking us up in Hane’s Bay. It was a long yet different experience on this horse filled barren island.

The excitement of the day started very early in the morning. We headed off around 4 or 5 am from where we had been anchored and left for Vaipaee. What is most interesting about Vaipaee is that there are sheer cliffs on both sides of the bay, not much wider that the length of the Aranui from bow to stern. We arrived around 6 AM and it was at this time in the morning that the crew of the boat did what I would imagine to be their most challenging manoeuvre. As they approach this harbour, they drop their anchor facing directly into the narrow harbour. They then proceed to spin the boat 180 degrees in the narrow channel so that the front and rear of the boat are within what seems like 150 feet of the two rock walls while at the 90 degree mark. They continue to spin the boat and dispatch two whaleboats to pull a rope to the shores on either side. The boats then tie up the Aranui to the sides of the canyon so as to keep it stable and prevent it from turning any further. With the anchor down in the back and the two ropes acting as guy wires the boat is firmly in position to unload and load its cargo (as well as passengers). In this type of position however nobody except the cargo barges would be able to get into or out of the harbour. I saw a sailboat floating further inland of the shore and there was no way for this boat to exit the harbour even if it wanted too.

I could have been fooled into being told that I was in some Mexican Village when I saw the landscape and topography of this small island. There are only about 600 people on this entire island, much less than the number of horses which graze wild everywhere you look. As with many other islands in the Marquesas, horses are still used quite regularly but they are starting to be replaced with the ever popular pickup trucks that are being brought to the islands. After all they can carry a lot more cargo at a time. It is in this same manner that modern conveniences are starting to replace traditional ways in these islands. It is hard to believe that the first vehicles didn’t arrive until the early 1970’s and the first electrical power didn’t arrive until the late 1980’s along with its numerous conveniences.

At the quay people were busting about preparing to drop off or pick up shipments with the Aranui in town. Some locals were also making a brisk business of selling food to other locals that perhaps did not eat breakfast or had not brought a lunch with them. It looked like this was the place to be this morning. Apart from the 2 people on our boat who were visiting this island on horseback, everyone else piled into the numerous flower decorated pickup trucks that lined the quay to Vaipaee. These trucks whisked us off to the main town hall where a group of “Mama’s” from the village prepared a short two song music and dance presentation for us. Our driver was the town’s gendarme (policeman), one of only two on this island of 580 people. Outside the town hall we saw one of only two dance performances so far during our trip, presented by adults. Most of the rest have all been performed by young children. In this town however, they didn’t have a holiday from school with the Aranui in town like other villages.

Following the performance we received a tour of the local museum where original and recreated pieces of old life, carvings and architecture are on display. They displayed everything from hand carved Marquesian stilts to a miniature homestead, fishing hooks, tikis and shells. Considering the small size of the museum it was amazing to see how many artefacts they crammed into this tiny space. It was by far the most comprehensive and best museum I have seen in the Marquesas.

After a bit of time for buying the usual handicrafts from the village handicraft centre, we headed off for our next stop at the Marquesas’ only botanical gardens or rather arboretum (as everything relates to different types of trees). This arboretum has trees from around the world that all grow well in the Marquesas. On display is everything from roseapples, pamplemousse, starfruit and bamboo to mangos, lemons and banyan trees. It was a relaxing walk but there were tons of mosquitoes to keep us moving from shade tree to shade tree in the hot sun of the day. The high Deet content of the bug spray helped a little bit but these mosquitoes must have been desperate for some fresh blood as they still managed to leave their mark.

The next part of the trip was my favourite of the day. Our family drove in the back of the same pickup truck through Hane to the town of Hokatu. The stretch of coastline between the island’s airport and Hokatu was the most breathtaking. To the one side were steep mountainous terrain that rose high into the hills above us and dotted with horses. To the other side of the main road that zigzagged along (which in parts was one lane) were sheer drop off cliffs that overlooked the deep blue waters in the rough rocky shores below. Waves crashing up against the shoreline and the beautiful cliffs made for an excellent viewpoint as we paused for a moment looking down. Jaeden and Alyssa were happy to be riding in the back of the pickup truck as they wound around this stretch of road that wound around harbours and little villages. From their vantage point they could see unobstructed views of the scenery, and travel in the same manner as half of the local population. The roads are small and weave around thus not allowing for great speeds to be achieved while driving. I asked our policeman driver how his job on the island was, and he told me it is a very tranquil and quiet island.

We drove through Hane and on to Hokatau. We were told that the Aranui 3 does this every second trip to give both communities and equal opportunity to sell their handicrafts. Hokatau would complain that when passengers when there second, they had already purchased the handicrafts they wanted and not buy more. As a result each village takes its turn at being the second one visited. In my opinion however Hokatau’s handicraft centre was the most comprehensive and well stocked that I have seen since arriving in the Marquesas. Where Hane had a few items, Hokatau had shelves filled with wood carvings of all types. Both detailed and basic carvings were found here of manta rays, drums, masks, tikis, hair picks, bowls and platters. It was by far the best selection of wooden handicrafts that I had seen. Even after dozens of handicrafts were purchased by the over 100 people from our ship, it hardly made a dent in the heavily stocked shelves.

While we were selecting a drum to purchase, we asked a local boy on the other side of an open window if he could play a bit for us so that we could listen to the sound of the instrument. He directed us to an old man peeking through the next window over. From the other side of the window this old man played a little bit on the two drums for us to compare the deep tapping sounds. The young boy then told us that the older man was the artist that had actually carved the drums that were for sale. It was interesting to see the people that were gathered round the handicraft centre to see what would be purchased from the local townspeople.

For lunch we headed back to Hane where we ate at Chez Celine Fournier. Once again the feast was diverse and based on local foods of the area including rice, raw fish, curried goat and ground oven cooked bananas and pork.

From here our group split up into two. Those of us who wanted to take a 40 minute (each way) hike into the mountains to a viewpoint headed off inland while everyone else headed back by foot to the village. My wife took the older two children Alyssa and Jaeden on the hike while I took Dailin and Orin on the fifteen minute walk back to shore. They were a bit too exhausted from the sun to be wanting to spend much more time walking. Eli had stayed on the boat with the person that handles children’s activities as the day was a bit too long on shore and we didn’t want him to be attacked by the mosquitoes we were avoiding at the gardens. Dailin who didn’t bring any swim clothes headed back to the boat while Orin and I had a quick 30 minute swim in the small rolling waves of the bay. It was a thick black sand beach which on shore was so thick that your feet would sink into the wet sand. In the water some debris and pebbles would wash up and down with the waves but were not bothersome at all. It was a refreshing end to the day.

Getting onto the boat hear was the most adventurous yet. It was a wet landing and when cargo was brought on and off the whaleboats men were wading into the water grabbing their goods and walking out of the water amid the waves that were rolling in. When it came time to get on the boat, the sailors would pick up the children and put them in the boat because the boats had simply landed on the beach. There was no dock in this little town and so even the elderly people in our group had to be carried onto the boat. It was quite a sight to see some of the crew trying to hold the boat while others were attempting to load the boat with passengers. Those holding the boat were trying to make sure the boat was not beached while at the same time trying to make sure that it was not too far from shore.

Everyone was onboard by 4:30 in the evening, ready for a boat ride past “Bird Islands”. They are two little island motus that are not far from shore where the airport is located. In twenty minutes we were passing by this island that had literally thousands and thousands of birds. For the small size of the island it was almost deafening to hear the birds on this flat treeless island flying around in swarms. From quite a distance we could hear the birds but it was hard to see them until we approached very close to the island. It was if they all rose up off the island as we sailed past and it was amazing that these thousands of birds in such a small area could fly around and not crash into each other. There were so many that it looked like a swarm of bats darting around in all directions. I along with each of my children and the other passengers absolutely enjoyed this short diversional activity.

Authored by Norm Schafer, Victoria BC


Day 11

Day 11: April 17 – Nuku Hiva: Hatiheu (archaeology, traditional Marquesian dancing and petroglyphs)

We returned back again to the island of Nuku Hiva but this time to a town along the northern coast. Hatiheu was once again a small town but on the Marquesian island with the most infrastructure. This was also the first and only town we encountered that had a dirt road throughout the town. Most villages until now at least had a paved section through the downtown area, but in Hatiheu time seemed to stand still, at least a little bit longer.

Our four year old Eli, asked me once again if he could stay on the the boat while the rest of us went on our shore excursion. He was getting a bit tired of trotting off in the sun and wanted the predictable routine that was offered by the kind-hearted Mila who handled the kids activities on the boat. Given that we were going into the mountain and that the risk of Nono’s and Mosquito’s is high on Nuku Hiva we decided it would be best for him to stay on the boat as much as we wanted him to join us. As a result after our usual buffet breakfast we said goodbye and parted on one of the last whaleboats that took us to shore.

My wife Kirsten, Alyssa, Jaeden, Dailin and Orin joined me for our day in Hatiheu. We hopped into and in the back of one of the pickup trucks that shuttled passengers around. My wife jumped out in the village with Alyssa and Jaeden who wanted to have a look at souvenirs that were being sold by vendors at the side of the road. I however continued on with the younger two to the tohua (ancient Marquesian gathering place) where we were to learn about the ancient uses of this site.

Just outside this historical site we saw two men working amid their coconut trees, husking and peeling coconut from their shells. While one man collected coconuts from the fallen trees, the other sat next to a pile of coconuts. With one swipe of his machete he grabbed a coconut from the pile and within seconds had it husked and the interior of the coconut in large chunks on the ground. From where he sat he would throw the coconut shell twenty feet into a fire that was burning in front of him. The entire fire consisted of burnt or half burnt coconut shells. These men were in the process of making copra. From here they would lay the coconut in the sun for two weeks in its final preparation to be exported and turned into oils. People from these islands go through the hard labour still of shelling coconuts for copra. Although they made it look easy, it is still very labour intensive compared to collecting noni fruit and placing them in a barrel for export as a medicinal cure-all.

After waiting at this archaeological site called Hikokua for about half an hour for everyone to arrive on foot (including the rest of my family), the first part of our afternoon entertainment and education got underway. Three local men came and presented the “pig dance” which consists of a dance that imitates the ever so popular pigs of the island that are well respected. This dance included jumping around hunched over while making deep hoarse noises that sounded much like that of a pig. I’ve been told that after singing like that for twenty minutes, one’s voice is gone for the rest of the day. Our children enjoyed watching this spectacle that was located in the same place where similar performances were conducted in years gone by. The performance was conducted in this gathering place that was flanked by raised stone platforms on three sides, areas where spectators in the past would also watch from. To one side was a rock where solo ceremonial dances where performed while at the far end we had a view of the spike like mountains that greeted us as we entered into the harbour. It was a beautiful sunny place to spend an hour learning about Marquesian culture and history.

We continued up into the mountains to the second and third adjoining sites ofKamuihei and Tahakia. Although these site were not totally cleared from trees as the first site, it was a more authentic recreation of the shady meeting places and performance areas of the traditional Marquesian settlements. Whereas the first site was cleared and restored by local villagers, these sites was restored nine years ago under the supervision of Archaeologist Pierre Ottino whom we had also met restoring a site on Ua Pou the week before. What was so impressive about these sites were the sheer magnitude of their sizes and numbers of areas. Also impressive was the massive 600 year old pandanas tree that seemed to hover over the entire area with its massive multi rooted trunk and stretched out canopy. I have truly never seen anything like it. It was great to know that this site was restored in 1998 in preparation for the Marquesian festival that brings together people from all around these islands. A great excuse to pull together the ancient history of the area with the present.

After viewing the big pits in this area that had once contained taboo objects and bones, we caught a ride down the mountain to the town spokesman or mayor’s restaurant called “Chez Yvonne”. This lady is a traditional woman who directs the town well. She works to maintain the culture and history of the area including the opposition of constructing a road to the nearby bay and settlement of Anaho. The meal too was very traditional. It all started with the unveiling of the three pigs and breadfruit that had been cooking since 3 AM in the Marquesian underground oven. We were then treated to a 4 course feast for lunch that started with a seafood platter, lobsters, the pig and then a tapioca coconut desert. By the time we were all done we couldn’t eat another bite and were thoroughly impressed by this remarkable lunch.

The final part of our afternoon we opted to skip the 40 minute hike to the Anaho saddle viewpoint. We decided that we would just have a swim in the waves of this bay’s black sand beach that were big enough to make a parent nervous and at the same time strike excitement into the hearts of our children. Smaller two foot waves would break followed by a series of three to five foot crushers. While Alyssa, Jaeden and Dailin enjoyed being pounded by the larger waves a little further out where it was usually waist to shoulder deep, Orin and another girl his age from France who he met on the boat played closer to shore where the waves swirled around them and would have swept them away had I not been there to lift them over the waves and hold them by me. This is probably the most fun our children have had in the water since arriving in French Polynesia.

Although the Marquesas islands are not known for their beaches like the crystal blue waters and white beaches of other French Polynesian islands, the few beaches that are here can be exciting if you avoid the strong currents and know where to swim. What makes these beaches perhaps more rough is the fact that the Marquesas islands are not surrounded by reefs like the other islands and so they are open to the elements of the waves of the Pacific Ocean. As time went on however we could see that the kids probably would never want to leave this slightly dangerous beach so we packed up with the promise that we would do some more swimming in the Aranui’s onboard swimming pool. Although not as exciting it did work and get the kids out of the sun for that afternoon.

Authored by Norm Schafer, Victoria BC


Day 12

Day 12: April 18 – Nuku Hiva and Ua Pou Islands: Taiohae and Hakahau

We returned to two main islands and two main cities that we had already seen before. Our cargo ship, the Aranui 3, returns to the bigger islands where it offloads most of its cargo so that it can collect the large shipping containers that they left behind when we first arrived to those cities. With the cargo ship now mostly empty with the exception of the fruits, copra and noni we were bringing back to Papeete, the ship likes to pick up the containers it will need for the next boatload of items it will bring back to the islands in another few weeks. The Aranui makes 13 trips per year to the Marquesas and they need most every bit of space in its cargo area to transport the goods to the islands.

We first stopped in Taiohae on Nuku Hiva for a short two hour stay. Although a short stop we had enough time to take our oldest four children on shore where a le truc school bus shuttled us into town where I headed to an internet cafe (to update my photos and blog). This was not entirely exciting for our children so when I was done 45 minutes later we walked around the waterfront of the village before stopping for an ice-cream treat at a little corner-store. Taiohae is the most developed city in the Marquesas and was a bustling town by Marquesian standards. Although there will not be any traffic congestion in the near future and horses are still used as a mode of transportation, it is nonetheless a busy little town which had at least a dozen or more sailboats in its harbour. For yaughtees coming across the Pacific Ocean from the Galapagos and Mexico, it is the first port of entry in a month long voyage across the ocean, a place where people tend to spend a bit of time celebrating being back on land again.

We set off around 9:45 in the morning to spend the afternoon on board and arrived around 1:00 PM in the first town we visited of Hakahau in Ua Pou. No sooner had we arrived on the island did Isadore, our taxi driver from eight days earlier, have someone search us out in the dining room. He had come to deliver the promised flower stones our children had so desperately searched for on the beach but not found. He also delivered two CDs of his music. One CD was of him and his two brothers while the other was of him and his two teenage children. It was a pleasant surprise to see him on the boat again delivering the promised items he had offered before. Within no time however this sole taxi driver of the island was off again driving passengers from our ship around the island.

In this little town we took all five of our children on shore to get any last minute souvenirs and presents. We returned to a small little souvenir stand that was above the beach and on the other side of a paved road (behind the beachfront thatched roof souvenir shops). My wife had picked up some reasonably priced souvenirs the week before and so she was happy to return again. Here we found perhaps the most affordable carved necklaces on the islands and even our 4 year old Eli, was happy to finally get a souvenir bone necklace of his own. The lady at the stand was also happy to resize his necklace to fit.

While the children went beachcombing I headed off to the bank to withdraw some money that we would be needing while on the Tuamotu islands. While Rangiroa would have a bank machine, the next island of Tikehau would not and so I needed to get enough cash due to the daily and weekly withdrawal limits on my bank card. The bank was not far away however and so I still had some time to play with my children at the beach and watch my son work on his drawing. He had once again seen the elderly gentleman from France working on drawing a scene of the thatched roof vendor’s area and sat down beside him to work on drawing the same thing. By the time the rest of our family was ready to go Jaeden stayed to work on his picture along this master artist.

By 3:45 PM our ship was leaving the Marquesas islands for the last time. From beside the swimming pool of the Aranui 3 we looked out at the mountain peaks to say goodbye to these awe inspiring islands. Each little corner of its culture and history had taught us about one of the most remote and unique places in the world. It has been a true delight for us to explore these islands together as a family on a cargo cruise vessel. A delightful experience not one of us will forget. With another two days before we arrive in our last stop of Rangiroa of the Tuamotu islands, we will have a bit of time to take it all in before starting the final leg of our French Polynesian adventure, that of the Tuamotu islands.

Authored by Norm Schafer, Victoria BC


Day 13

Day 13: April 19 – At Sea

You may think that a day at sea may be a bit boring but it was a well-needed break from being on the go every day. While the shore excursions were interesting and educational, after 9 straight days of being on the go, I was ready for a bit of a break. Even with the small “break” from being on shore, there was plenty to do. The children as always wanted to make sure to spend some time in the swimming pool. As we were at sea, the pool was back to sloshing around like a bowl of jello. It was exciting for the kids to get in the freshwater and be jostled around in the pool to cool off.

The kids’ activity co-ordinator Mila, had plenty planned for our children as well. As we were to leave the ship a day early, this was going to be our last full day on the ship. Traditionally on the Aranui, passengers can invite the crew to eat with them in the dining room during the last two days. We decided to invite the four people that served our children in the dining room as well as Mila, to the early kid’s lunch. Our children all wanted to say goodbye to their newly made friends on the ship along with the other four little French girls they had met on the ship. Upon hearing about this, the other two sets of parents asked to join in. Due to the number of extra people however the cook refused to make that many extra meals one hour earlier than normal. He was not as impressed with the idea as the rest of us. We were all a bit disappointed but when pushing a little further, Mila, after a request from our family, was able to convince the Staff chef, to make the meal for us.

At this point the meal was just for our family and the staff because the food was all traditional Marquesian or Tahitian food. It included the standard foods such as raw fish cooked in lime juice, cooked bananas, breadfruit and fried fish. Upon my request we also ate the meal in the traditional way… with our fingers. This however took a bit of reminding amongst the staff as some of them too, are much in the habit of using utensils. It was the first Tahitian meal where we were able to eat with our hands and I wasn’t going to turn that opportunity down. Too many times a Tahitian meal includes at least one non-Tahitian component which is excuse enough to use utensils when eating.

As we all got together to eat, the staff members had all placed a wrapped package on the plate of each member of our family. The children were as excited as always to open it up. Inside they each discovered some little treasure to remember our vacation on the Aranui. Each child along with my wife and I, were each presented with an Aranui t-shirt except for Eli who received a pair of shoes that had red and green lights in them that lit up when he walked. Eli was especially excited to try out his new shoes and seemed to zip around non-stop during the rest of the meal. We were a bit surprised at all of this hoopla for our family and asked if it was normal procedure on the ship and we were informed that it only happens “rarely”, perhaps as rare as a family of 7 getting onto the Aranui (in the staff’s memory we were the first family on the ship with more than three children).

After enjoying our meal I spent much of the afternoon lazing around the outside deck in the sun for the first time (I had no energy to do the packing that needed to be done) while our children finished putting together the Marquesas journals. From the first day on the boat, Mila had each of the children adding things to their journals almost on a daily basis. Inside were the words to the songs they had danced to at the Polynesian night, simple translated words in Tahitian, Marquesian, French and English as well as their own personal thoughts on the trip so far.

At 4 PM in the evening the man responsible for all of the cargo on the ship held a question and answer session in the lobby. It was interesting to hear about this man’s 25 years of experience on the Aranui 1, 2 and 3. He talked about while there was over 2000 tons of cargo that we brought over to the Marquesas islands, less than 300 tons were being brought back in the form of copra and other fruits. This was quite evident as we ploughed the open waters to the Marquesas Islands. Where water had once constantly sloshed up against the porthole window at the beginning of our voyage, our porthole was now a couple of feet above the waterline. We also learned that the ship had transported 22 vehicles on this trip and the most unique piece of cargo so far had been a helicopter. Finally about 8 cows and a horse were transported during the voyage from one of the Marquesian islands to another.

Our evening dinner was elaborate as ever. A delicious salad appetizer, followed by a beautiful fish dinner and a diet defying chocolate mousse desert. With two amazing deserts per day I was ready for a different diet (with both one regular chef and a pastry chef on board it illustrates the Aranui’s focus not only on the meals but also on the deserts). We said goodbye to new friends at this last dinner with a promise that we would say our last farewells at our beachside picnic on Rangiroa the following day.

Authored by Norm Schafer, Victoria BC


Day 14

Day 14: April 20 – Rangiroa: Tuamotu Islands

When we had asked Silvie, one of the guides, what time we had to disembark on this our last stop we were told 8:30 AM. This didn’t sit too well for us as it is not an easy thing to pack up for 7 people in three cabins and get a good night sleep at the same time. When we quietly complained to another staff member about having to have our bags packed by 8 AM and be off the boat a half hour later, we were told that other arrangements could be made. So we contacted the other guide Vai who was more than happy to accommodate our request for a 10:30 AM departure. This was all of the extra time we needed and sure made the day much more enjoyable after a good night sleep. Although Silvie was not impressed with our alternate arrangements, she bit her tongue and allowed us to follow the schedule we had made for ourselves.

Because the last barge had departed two hours earlier to take passengers to shore, they floated one again for us and all of our baggage as we said goodbye to the crew members that would not be on shore. Once on shore we had a place to store our bags while we enjoyed a bit of time swimming in Rangiroa’s lagoon and saying farewell to our fellow passengers. The on-shore picnic was great food from the ship and all of the regular ship staff including the servers and bartenders were there to do their job (although the servers had a bit more of a relaxing time since it was a buffet style paper-plate meal).

It was sad to say goodbye to everyone as our Pension came by to pick us up. I was almost sure our ride would leave without us as it took at least 15 minutes to round up the children and say bye to everyone. But they did wait. As we filled up the car with our luggage, our hostess Vai, asked another vehicle that had just arrived if they would take some of our family members in their van and to where we were going. She said, he’s my uncle so its not a problem. It saved us a lot of waiting because there was no way we were going to fit into the 5 passenger vehicle with our family of 7, all of our luggage and the driver. We waved goodbye to all of our friends and were off for another adventure in Rangiroa. We were leaving the Aranui one day early and sad to leave but excited for more experiences to come.

Authored by Norm Schafer, Victoria BC


Also view Aranui 3 blog from 2010

Written by Norm Schafer, Victoria BC of Far and Away

For more photos information and blogs by Normand Schafer visit  Family to get the full scoop.

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